The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Drying clothes on the line in the winter

Winter clothes dryingI hear from a lot of folks who give up on drying their clothes outside in the winter.  But once you buy a dryer, there's often no turning back.  First you toss your clothes in the dryer on frigid January days, but soon even an overcast spell in June has you visiting the indoor energy hog instead of just waiting for pretty weather.

Since I stubbornly refuse to set foot on that slippery slope, I'm stuck drying our clothes outside all winter...and it's really no big deal.  The waterline froze the night before I chose to start our November laundry, so I couldn't fill the wringer washer until mid afternoon, but our clean clothes still dripped most of the moisture out that evening before freezing solid overnight.  As soon as the sun came out, they were sublimating moisture even from their frozen surfaces, and then the sunny afternoon thawed the fabric enough that I could flip each item over.  That night, I put away all except the heaviest towels, jeans, and fleece tops, and the next evening everything was ready to come in.

Yes, it technically took a bit over 48 hours to dry our clothes, but what's the hurry?  Your annual estimated savings from hanging clothes on the line is $100 for the equipment (depreciating value of the dryer) plus $150 in electricity, and the extra work during extended winter drying amounts to no more time than you'd spend checking a rising loaf of bread.

Do you dry clothes outside in the winter?  Do you have any tips for folks who want to try but are afraid of the cold?

Our chicken waterer kits are easy to convert to a heated waterer for easy winter care.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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"November laundry" on the end of the month. Sounds like twelve laundry days a year;-} We have had a clothes dryer for five years and it still isn't hooked up. Today's weather forecasts are so accurate it is easy to pick a sunny day. Mother never had a dryer, though she did get rid of the wringer washer sometime after I was grown. Our clothes freeze dried in winter. Try folding a bedsheet when it is frozen. And clothes pins back then didn't have springs in them. Many a time I came back into the house with stiff fingers.
Comment by Errol Sat Dec 1 08:03:58 2012
I've rigged up a clothes line in the garage on a pulley. In the UK it rains too often to be sure of a clear 48 hours outside to dry clothes, but the garage works fine, and the moisture stays out of the house.
Comment by Jeremy Sat Dec 1 09:53:27 2012

The only problem I see with drying clothes outside in winter, it the actual process of hanging them up. All that water plus the cold, means your fingers are going to hurt. I recommend wearing rubber gloves while hanging up clothes. It keeps the water and wind off your fingers, which helps quite a lot in the pain department. We'll be washing and drying clothes outside all winter this year, and we've done it before. Sure, it takes and extra day or two to dry, but if you have plenty of clothes, it's really not a problem. We only do small loads of laundry at a time, and our line is pretty much always in use. As soon as one load comes down from the line, we wash another load and it goes up.

Comment by Angela Sat Dec 1 10:16:05 2012
The best winter laundry drying system I had was in an old farmhouse that came with a indoor clothesline that most of the time was retracted into a pencil sharpener size fixture on the wall. It could be pulled out and attached to a hook on the other wall. It extended over our wood stove. I would do a load of laundry in the evening, hang it up before we went to bed and it would be dry in the morning and the air would have some much needed moisture added to it. I had a newborn and did lots of diapers that year and being without a dryer was never an issue. Now, I mostly hang out our laundry on our tenement clothesline, but there are days when I use the dryer.
Comment by Alice Sat Dec 1 10:48:29 2012

Maybe, Anna, you need to convince readers that it IS possible to get the wind up, with that chant! The benefits of hanging out clothes are, mostly, that you get outdoors for fresh air--even more beneficial than saving the drying money! About keeping fingers warm--try wearing 2 pairs of gloves, with the inner pair the stretchy light-weight kind, and the outer the kind of heavy cloth work gloves with a gripping texture, or, better yet, brown jersey work gloves. And make sure you have your clothes sorted by kind (socks, undies, T-shirts, etc) so you can get them hung up as fast as possible. Folding the sheets in 4ths in the house also speeds things up, as you can quickly unfold, to hang. If you don't have sun all day on the clothesline, hang the more needed things on the sunniest side.

Using the house at night, with a line high up,is a fast dry for most things.

I remember my mother's story of how she, at near 90, in South Weymouth, Mass. tripped and fell, going down a bank slippery with snow in the winter. She was wearing a long wool winter coat, and just slid on down to the clothesline, which she was able to grab onto and pull herself up by--she even had her clothesbasket still with her! She did make it back up the bank, by going in untrodden snow. She always kept her clothespins in a clothespin bag, which she would hang around her neck. then she would bring the clothespin bag inside, to use if needed in the house. Last--I think that clothes dried out outside are healthier, as they are certainly fresher, and have been purified by the sun, wind, and cold, if dried in winter.

Comment by adrianne Sat Dec 1 13:58:02 2012

The 1000 RPM spin cycle on my washing machine gets most of the water out. Clothes that don't hold a lot of water like a fleece sweater I could probably wear straight out of the washer if I needed to.

So in the winter I just put the washing on a drying rack in the spare room. It is usually dry the next day. Since I rarely have more than one wash per week, I don't see why I should bother with a dryer.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sat Dec 1 15:55:42 2012
I have a dryer, but rarely use it. I have a shower curtain tension rod in the doorway beside my washer. I wash clothes that easily hang (shirts, pants, dresses) and put them on hangers straight out of the washer. I easily get a load hung in the doorway and they dry in about 24 hours depending on the house temp. This is laziness on my part because the dry clothes then go straight to the closet from the drying rod. I started hanging t-shirts rather than folding because this is much faster. I wash other items in a separate load and hang on the line outside. I have a emergency line on my screen porch and a drying rack I also use. I confess that I do still use my dryer for towels. Indoor drying limits what goes on the line outside so it's no problem finding a sunny day for drying most of the time. If you heat with wood the humidity that comes with indoor drying is a blessing. Air drying saves lots of money and I believe my method prolongs the life of my clothing.
Comment by tammy Sat Dec 1 18:04:35 2012

When I first came to Japan, I asked my host family where their clothes dryer was. She just looked at me like I was a crazy person. Then I realized that almost nobody has one here.

Instead of clotheslines, they have multiple thin wall stainless steel pipes outside their south windows or balconies. You can hang futon from it, and it is just the right size for multiple hangers as well (like ten hangers perfectly spaced that have a single hanger on top, another type has 25-30 clothespins hanging down from a 1x2' frame). The balconies usually have a small overhang and the clothes can hang outside even during a normal rain. Works great and the UV light kills a lot of odor causing bacteria on towels and the like as well. And as a bonus, with the multiple hangers you can put all the clothes on the hangers indoors, then just hang them outside without freezing fingers.

Comment by Eric in Japan Sat Dec 1 18:32:01 2012
I have a dryer, but rarely use it. I try to wash clothes I can hang on a clothes hanger (shirts, pants, dresses) together. I have a shower length tension rod in the doorway next to my washing machine. I just stand at the washer and put the clothes on a hanger then hang them in the doorway. I can get a load at a time hung this way and it takes about 24 hours to dry. This is actually my lazy method all year. It's quick and the dry clothes then go straight to the closet on the hanger so they are easy to put away. I'm now so lazy that I hang t-shirts rather than fold them. You would be surprised how many things fit on a clothes hanger if you're creative! Items that don't fit the clothes hanger method end up on the clothes line or drying rack. Since my hanger method limits the number of items I have to hang on the clothes line outside I can usually find a pretty day. I also have a retractable line on my screen porch and spare tension rod for emergency use. I'm usually limited to sheets, socks and underwear on the outside line and they hang quickly if you shake them out well before you go outside. I probably have an advantage since we have a pretty short season for frozen clothes here in central NC. The savings on my power bill is enough to keep me from using the dryer in most cases, but I must confess that I almost always dry towels. If you heat with wood, it's a blessing to have a little extra humidity in the house so laundry in the doorway is good for you.
Comment by tammy Sat Dec 1 19:04:25 2012
If we have thicker things like towels or blankets I usually dry them in the living room on a quilt rack. The moisture from the towel counteracts the dry heat of the woodstove eliminating my need for a pot of water on top. It's a win/win. :-) The lighter items can go outside. :-)
Comment by Angela England Sat Dec 1 21:25:54 2012
I have a relatively small house, 794sf. It is heated with an oil burning floor furnace and has no fireplace or woodstove. I don't have a real clothesline, just one line I rigged up using some old rope. I prefer the line in warmer weather (though my partner hates it). I tend to use the dryer exclusively when it is cold out. I take the hose from the outside vent and put a sock over the end to filter lint and get some free heat as I dry clothes. I try to wait until the temps drop in the evening to dry clothes.
Comment by Ed Sun Dec 2 22:26:56 2012
I have never tried it, but I read somewhere once when I was researching this, that you can add salt to the rinse water and they won't freeze. I didn't hear how much to use or anything, I wish I had. It makes sense. I imagine they'd dry faster if they didn't freeze during the process at some point.
Comment by Rhenda Wed Dec 5 01:33:42 2012
Our family of 4 lives in a 1,000 sq ft mobile home where we use a GREAT little Dutchwest wood stove for heat. My drying rack sits beside the wood stove and does a perfect job drying clothes and adding moisture to the air. I'm so glad we opted for the wood stove to be an indoor unit as opposed to an outdoor setup for this reason. Doesn't matter if there is rain, snow or sleet -- my laundry still gets done.
Comment by Jamie in VA Wed Dec 26 07:38:15 2012

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